There’s No Such Thing as a Self-Made Success

What if you won the lottery? The really big one.
Would you take a different approach to your career? You might take more risks knowing you had a safety net. What if, as a child, you went to a private school for gifted students? You might have more confidence. So the next time you compare yourself with someone who’s more “successful”, remember they got there because they had help – as far back as a well-supported childhood.
 
 

For most of my life I’ve worked in a “dysfunctionally independent” manner. I foolishly believed that if I asked for help, it meant that I was

Fifth Grade Me

incapable or lazy. I actually believed that successful people were those who only did everything on their own. If it’s meant to be, then it’s up to me! …..right? When I was a working in Chicago, I had it in my head that if I took a class from a casting director, then I was “cheating”. For me, the only way to be a respectable actor was to get an agent, audition, and prove myself worthy with a long resume. Yeah…

In preparation for my move to L.A., I took an on-camera class from a casting director’s assistant, but never expected him to help me. Turns out, that’s how life works. While I did well at my first TV audition, it was his good word to the CD that tipped the scales in my favor, and I got the job. (Some gal named Tina Fey was also up for that role. I wonder whatever happened to her?)
 

Once I landed in L.A., a friend turned me on to CD workshops, and by gum, they worked! Later, an acquaintance cast me in a staged reading of his screenplay which got me an audition/booking for a national commercial! So random. An old friend from Chicago got wind of my little successes and walked me into her agency where I landed an agent! Then the dry spells came, then success, then – you know the drill. I started to wonder if there was something missing, something that I still didn’t know? At my age, what else could there possibly be? Turns out, a lot.
 
So I invested in career coaching. I used a system that worked well for awhile, but doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for different/better results eventually lost its flavor. Without knowing were to go next, I released the need to figure it out. And as life would have it, a perfectly timed email arrived in my inbox that gave me my answer.
 
I immersed myself in a higher level of coaching. It taught me the difference between being a “list doer” and being an explorer. When we explore, we learn through real-life experience. We move from knowing about something to actually knowing something. My decisions came more quickly, my creative flow became easier, and my definition of success completely changed. But it’s not just the exploration that brought me rewards. It was the letting go of the idea that everything was solely up to me.
 
I no longer resist the undeniable give-and-take between me and my wisdom, all of mankind, and the Universe.

The Secret Value of Joy

Survivor’s Guilt.

It’s what happens when a person finds themself to be the only person who’s survived a tragic event. This past year, in spite of the pandemic, my auditions have surprisingly increased. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty about this, so I try keep it to myself. Are you keeping the good things in your life a secret?

As soon as I came back from my family vacation, I was hit hard with non-stop auditions. In July, I had fifteen of ’em in nineteen days, including two callbacks (see video above). Some say it’s not cool to mention this when so many actors are suffering dry spells, but attempting to control other people’s feelings is a losing game.


 
Two years ago – when I had 22 in-person auditions in 21 days – I had some wisdom to share. Now confined to at-home auditions, I have something new to share: Discouragement seeps into our psyche when we no longer see what it true. What I know to be true is that there are infinite possibilities. I’ve lived too long not to see that anything is possible. (Don’t confuse this with the folly of “This could be the one!”) I see possibilities, but am attached to no specific results. Even if I suspect that some of these potential jobs might have already been cast, or that my tape may never be shown to producers, the only thing I see is opportunity. Opportunity to have fun.
 
There is value in joy.
Yes, auditioning two to seven times a week can be exhausting, – especially when some of them are deeply emotional and/or several pages long – but acting is what I love, and so I also relish in the “art of the audition”. From first downloading the script, to recording it on my audition app, to planning my wardrobe, to setting up the camera, I love the process of creating character and story. In fact, we’re all here to create, no matter what our profession. And now that I’m working in an age range that spans over twenty years (40s to 60s!), I get to add yet another layer to the creation process. How fun is that?
 
When we allow ourselves to experience joy, we feel connected to every living thing. This connection has us feeling/seeing the world differently. During a worldwide pandemic, we can either grab on to what is wrong with the world, or what is right with the world. So instead of assuming the future is bleak, why not grab on to what is true: The future is full of possibilities.

Ever ask, “Am I the only one who sees this”?

I drove home from an acting gig this past year, like Carrie walked home from Prom – desperately needing to wash it all off of me. It took me awhile to figure out why. No, I didn’t set anything on fire, and I sincerely enjoyed the work. but the plainest I could tell was that even in the so called “grown-up world”, high school cliques still exist.

Artist’s rendering of Carrie walking home from prom.

 
In every YA book, there’s the kid who doesn’t fit in, but ultimately becomes the hero of the story. I’ve decided that I’m that kid. But then again, I make up stuff for a living.
 
Most of the industry was shut down last year, because many producers couldn’t afford to implement the new COVID safety protocols. The few that could afford it, implemented regular COVID testing, special food handling, hourly sanitizing, extra personnel, zoning, etc. It was tough, but when they got it right, it was impressive. They knew that any missteps could have serious consequences. So when this particular production refused to check any cast or crew member’s COVID test results, I was speechless. They insisted that “HIPAA law states they cannot see anyone’s test results”. In my head, I was like….yeah…no, that’s not how it works. I then asked playfully, “Well…would you like to know if I tested negative?” They looked me straight in the eye and all super-serious-like said: “We assume that responsible people would not show up on set if they tested positive!” Wowza, they just told me that their safety standards were based on…assumption!
 
Only three of us consistently wore face masks. It was about 50/50 for everyone else. The day they added fourteen (untested) extras on set, I had to walk out. No drama, I just laughed at the absurdity of it all, and waited outside until they were ready to roll. The COVID Compliance Officer (CCO) apologized profusely, but I could feel I was becoming a “problem” for them.
 
According to safety protocols, I was due for a re-test along with two other actors. In the clinic, I pointed out that we were about to be administered the wrong COVID test. (Why am I the only one who actually reads stuff before signing it?) One actor agreed with me, while the other remained silent. Our CCO spoke to the nurse to see if she could give us the proper test, and she said yes. The three of us went in for our “swab up the nose” only to find out minutes later, that production did the old bait & switch – they gave us the rapid, cheaper test after all. Oh, and they still didn’t want to know our results. I just laughed and laughed.
 
But I felt alone. Stupid and alone. No one else asked questions. No one else seemed to care. Some of you may be asking, Why didn’t you call the union? Why didn’t you just walk away? The best I can come up with is this: I got a strong sense that this was a defensive bunch who would double down on how right they were, I felt a bit trapped being on location, out of state, and quite frankly, I was stunned. I also know the importance of “playing well with others”, so I never pointed fingers, I never got super serious, and I never pushed the issue. I honestly didn’t know if they were arrogant a-holes or just plain stupid? I did know, however, that I was turning into that hall monitor no one likes.
 
So when I was finally wrapped – cut a day early – I felt like a social leper. I hadn’t discovered their nightly bar visits until four days in, because dummy me was going straight to her room every night to be safe. The one night I did join them for a quick beer, it was only the sound guy and me who wore masks. They memorialized a karaoke night a few nights later in an email. Hmmm…. everyone sharing mics and singing/shouting between swigs of alcohol – Thank you for not inviting me. Seriously, thank you.
 
My drive home was…freeing. I could breathe again. I wasn’t being judged for asking questions or wearing a mask. I was giddy to the fact that I wasn’t in their high school drama anymore, and the mean girls – I felt the most disparagement from the women – were just girls.
 
It is usually that kid who is comfortable in their own skin, that kid who marches to the beat of their own drum, who ends up being the hero. So when you happen to be the “only one” who sees something out of place, relax in knowing that the truth always come out.

Hermione Granger reads a book.

P.S.: The union was called and they took swift action.

How I Did It (My Life Strategy)

Ian and I were enjoying the oceanside pool at a five star hotel in Hawaii, when he sheepishly said to me, “I’m just waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Excuse me sir, you don’t belong here’.” (c.1997)

While in Hawaii, I pose like King Kamehameha.

That I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the country (and beyond) because of my various acting gigs, has not gone unnoticed. But how did I do it? When I was finished with conservatory, I took classes – just for fun – at The Second City, but a few years later, they hired me to tour. Just to keep sharp, I took classes at ImprovOlympic (RIP), which led me to performing with Boom Chicago in Amsterdam – because the producers knew me from the iO stage. While playing with new scripts at Chicago Dramatists’ Theatre, I met a producer/actor who was establishing a live industrial business. I ended up working with him for the next ten years, and made good money as an actor while traveling to many states including Hawaii, and later to Europe.
 
In March of 2020, I once again landed an out of town gig, but my flight was suddenly cancelled. I felt the rug burn my feet as it was pulled out from under me. The silence that replaced auditions over the next several months was deafening. There was nothing for me to do except… surrender. Every business – including show business – got busy figuring out how to work safely amidst a deadly virus. Slowly, auditions – in the form of self-tapes – began to ramp up. Productions were actually happening – virtually, or with masks, or with social distancing, etc. My three day gig that was canceled five months earlier was offered again in August. That three day trip transformed into a seven week job, escaping Los Angeles’ historic heat wave. Even in the middle of a world pandemic, I was traveling because of an acting gig. And that same departure week, I shot a national commercial.
 
So you want to know how I did it? Well…um…I guess by now, you can see that I had no real strategy. There are strategies galore out there; books of “how tos” flood the market, but when we follow someone else’s path, we do NOT get the same results. Authors cite statistics showing how their method is the best, but most methods’ effectiveness decrease the more times we use them. If I had a method to teach (and I don’t), here’s what I’d say: Show up. Explore, try stuff, experiment. In physics, it is said, For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. But in life,
For every action, there is…a reaction.
 
Look at the good stuff in your life. Ninety percent of it was unplanned, but it happened because – on some level – you just showed up.

Negativity Rules

I recently posed a question on social media: What motivates people to re-post negative news stories regularly? I got several responses that could be summed up as such:

  1. Our nation needs to be informed in order to vote correctly.
  2. In order to prevent becoming numb, it’s important to hold on to outrage.
  3. The reality is that negative news stories are our reality.
  4. We need to make others aware that “negative news stories” are shaping our future.
  5. It’s a way to warn the dimwitted about what’s happening.

I was surprised that…I was surprised to see people referring to only two things: our current administration and racism in America. While everyone answered to the logic of posting negative stories, few responded to the need for posting – the motivation. This reminded me of a phrase I stumbled upon while in high school:

“Don’t ever think you know what’s right for the other person. He might start thinking he knows what is right for you”.

                                     ~ Paul Williams, Das Energi

Moral outrage can produce great change, but when we point fingers at our neighbors for not thinking the “right” way, we lose our minds either trying to control their POV (an impossible task) or gleefully watching for their comeuppence (schadenfreude, anyone?). Ignoring negative news is near impossible, but allowing it to rule our state of mind is insanity. As Einstein once stated:

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

Feeling Sad Today? Maybe not.

I woke up feeling sad the other day,

but didn’t know why.

I just knew that it felt bad.

 

     I thought, “If I can figure out why I’m sad, then I can fix it”. I began a data search in my brain, picking out this and that, mulling over missed opportunities, lost loves, bad behavior, etc. Nothing clicked with what I was actually feeling. Instead, bringing up these memories just made me feel worse. I then woke up to a new thought: The sadness I’m feeling is all based on my thinking, and so I quickly switched gears. “OK, good. All I need to do is change my thinking. Think about something else…” I lay in bed, not wanting to get up until I solved this, so I mentally searched for an activity that would get me out of this “stinkin’ thinkin'”, something that would change my thought pattern. The only ideas I came up with were shallow distractions. Then I woke up again.
OMG – This is about judgment! For years, I had decided that feeling sad was bad for me! My whole life I saw sadness as something to be endured, avoided or fixed. “Hey, what if I didn’t judge it anymore?”, I thought. “What if I didn’t see it as something wrong?” In that moment – literally in that instant – my sadness disappeared, and I smiled.

My experience wasn’t about correcting the sadness, but rather about how I judged it. I laughed as I saw the simplicity in it all. Could it really be that easy? Yes, because I felt it.

(Originally Published January 6, 2020)

R U Leaving Your Soul in the Seat?

“When someone fears losing your affection, he or she will strive to keep it. Perhaps you have strived to keep someone’s affection, too. Fear of loss is not love.” – Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul

So you’ve got all of your tools in place. You’ve explored your Brand (I like to use the term, “Essence”), you’ve got your perfect headshots, your reel is up to date, you’re in class, your resume is growing. Congratulations! But there’s something no quite right. There’s this intangible part of the business that seems to open doors for everyone else, but you haven’t quite got it yet. What is that?

An actor friend of mine spoke about his early career mistakes, and it took him awhile to understand the biggest one. He had the looks, confidence and talent, but every time he left his seat in the waiting area to walk into the audition room, he said he left his soul in that seat. He didn’t know why, but he chose to leave the most authentic part of himself outside the door. Perhaps, he thought, no one wanted to see that? He thought professionalism was the ability to compartmentalize. In his mind, “Leave your sh&t outside the door” also meant “Leave your self outside the door”. He paid the price for hiding his best parts.

When I was in my twenties I knew that it was the time for making mistakes. I loved turning thirty, because I knew I was done making mistakes. Boy, was I in for a big surprise! As my mistakes continued, I mistook that for not being good enough. Thus began my downward spiral of contorting myself into a more “palatable” me. I played small and stayed safe. While my peers’ careers got sidetracked by starting families or dealing with serious life issues, my career got sidetracked by my lack of self worth.

Life immediately changes when we relax into who we are. When we relax into our own skins we no longer need to prove anything. The adolescent cry, “You don’t know me!” morphs into the quiet knowing that it’s perfectly OK if most people don’t get me. The most attractive people we know are those who know there is nothing to prove. And when we can enter the room with our whole self – free of the need to book the job and free of outside approval – doors will open.

BRING YOUR OPINIONS/QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS TOPIC TO MY TUESDAY FACEBOOK LIVE, 12PM PST

 

Facing Reality – is it good or bad?

We don’t see things as they are;

we see them as we are. ~ Anonymous

Every day news networks lead with shocking headlines solely to increase their ratings. To quote playwright, Adam Langer, “You never hear anyone say, ‘that’s too awful to be true.’ No matter how awful it is, you can believe it, why not no matter how good?” (Vivian in Film Flam)

Some may say that seeing the awful is facing reality. That in order to be safe, we must dutifully arm ourselves with worst case scenarios so as not to fall victim. We must watch the news, binge on real murder stories, click on depressing reports about our health care system and the environment – this keeps us ahead of the game! Beware hopeful stories, for they must be treated with suspicion. We must be careful not to have too much hope or else others will call us naive.

Our reality is based on what we believe. I like to play Black Jack, but I never win, because I have a hang-up about gambling. On the other hand, I believe so strongly in my body’s immune system that I’ve never had the flu even though I’ve never had a flu shot. Our beliefs are strengthened by what we choose to focus on. Good news – we can consciously shift our focus as soon as we are triggered by negative comments or disturbing stories. There is always good to be witnessed, and science shows it makes us healthier. Every horrible headline can be countered with something good. This is one of my favorites from last week: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/montana-governor-signs-executive-order-keep-net-neutrality-state/

Focus on the Good

You’re probably already seeing the connection between this and your career. I’ve encountered some crappy people and situations throughout the years, but the moment I no longer allowed them to predict my future, obstacles disappeared. Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

Tune in to my Facebook Live – every Tuesday at 12pm PST – to further discuss this week’s blog topic on “The Recognized Actor” FB Page.

I Know Why You’re Not Marketing

“The key to happiness is not to make yourself into a different person; it is to let yourself be even more of who you really are.” – Dr. Robert Holden

I work all day with actors who are stuck when it comes to their marketing. They are sincerely puzzled as to why they never get around to it. Some reasons they give are: “I don’t want to brag”, or “I don’t think it will do any good”. But I know it’s something more.

The biggest reason why we’re not doing our marketing is because we are stuck in the futile effort of trying to second guess what “they” want. To remedy this, we attend branding workshops where they hand out lists of adjectives for fellow attendees to label us. We listen so intently to what others are saying that we start to believe them. Yes, you’re right – I AM the Latina single mother who has a secret! We push to come up with something cast-able, so we settle on a brand that is not quite us. Our materials smack of subservience, pleading to be called in. As a young actor in Chicago, I was told that I would get more work if I wrapped myself in my Latin heritage. Speak the language, look the part. This confused me. I wondered how I was supposed to do that? I grew up in a Lithuanian neighborhood, my family never spoke Spanish, and I have no hips!

What we really want to say is, “This is me – take it or leave it!”

We admire people who unapologetically march to their own drummer. They are truly the most successful. So how do we find our drummer? Pay attention to the details. When we see the connection between the roles we most want to play and the ones we’re usually called in for, we begin to hear that drum. When we identify that “thing” we bring to every role, the drum gets louder. When we observe how uniquely we navigate life, we bear witness to our authenticity.

If you haven’t noticed by now, this is not just about marketing. It’s about life. If we’re bending over backwards to be more palatable to someone, or if we’re hiding parts of ourselves to fit into a group, we’re not living fully. Be authentic. Be happy.

David Bowie

Cookies Are the Cure

There’s this great scene in the film, Soapdish (1991), where Sally Field’s character – an aging temperamental soap star – is depressed. Her assistant asks if she needs to go to the mall. Through tears, she nods “yes!” Jump cut to her bedazzled self descending down the mall escalator where slowly but surely more and more people recognize her and soon she’s surrounded by adoring fans who want her autograph. Depression cured. Alas, we are not soap stars, nor do we have malls where validation awaits to greet us. Any validation we do get is fickle and unreliable. Others’ opinions of us are based on how they’re feeling that day, after all. (And we cast our opinions in the same manner.)

At least once a week, I see a post from someone who is getting kicked in the teeth by life. Friends try to cheer them up with virtual hugs and well-meaning, but overused sayings. The truth is, if we don’t pick ourselves up, we’re gonna slide right back into the muck. Coming up with a pep talk in the middle of a personal slump, however, is nearly impossible.  Or is it? Here’s how we can prep our pep talk in an honest, look-at-the-facts sort of way before we need it: Make some cookies. I’m not talking empty calorie cookies, but “cookies” that shift our perspective in just one bite. This idea comes from ultra-marathon runner, David Goggins.

Get a jar  – or a vase, or a box, (or ziplock bag you can keep in the car) – and fill it with notes spelling out all of your personal achievements. Their size doesn’t matter, just as long as they matter to you. Here are some of mine:

  • You returned to college at forty, did the work, and graduated as class valedictorian.
  • You traveled the U.S. staying in four star hotels, because you showed up as an actor.
  • Your rode your bike from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, because you decided to.

So when you’re feeling like you can’t possibly get through a painful time, or recover from a gut wrenching blow, reach into that cookie jar and tell yourself the truth.